Last Kisses

A soldier kissing his girl goodbye at Pennsylvania Station photographed by Alfred Eisenstadt,1944

Oh, sure, it was ardent, urgent, but
lacked the passion of those before, like
a period differs from an exclamation mark.
It lasted long, but it was the firmness,
the desperate I’m-not-letting-go
of its embrace that he remembered most.

It wasn’t the deep dive into
that warm pool of inviting flesh
in their other kisses, but it’d have to do
because this was their last kiss before
not seeing one another for a long time.
It felt as if she was kissing him
on his deathbed.

And on the other side, a boy kissed
his love that one last time, as well,
and surprised himself with the stiffness
of their lips against each other,
pressed hard together, like one would
in glue two things one to another.

Warmer, more expressive, were the tears
trickling down and mingling on all
their cheeks. Lips can lie.
Lips can speak in languages unknown
or misunderstood. “Auf wiedersehen,
meine Liebe” would be lost on the
girl who heard “Goodbye, my love.”

But tears speak the same language.
They express love, fear, warm hope,
even bitter finality on the lips that
could never profess that in words alone.
Even in a last kiss.

On Day 23 of NaPoWriMo 2017, a poem that has the title “Last (Something).” In my bleary-eyed wake-up half-hour on this Sunday, this story of two soldiers, each on opposing sides, speaking different languages though feeling the same emotions, came quickly to my mind and notebook. I love when that happens. I hate that its theme and truth ever have to happen.

At Loose Ends

As the higher, I’m reserving judgment on “highest,”
species on the planet, by now you would think at least
one of us humans could/would/should have thought
of a way to push ahead our evolution toward a means
of peaceful coexistence among one another.
But suspicion, greed, hatred and war are part of our DNA.

HUMANITY: loose ends with a common thread!

Even if there was an Adam, his sons kicked off the game
of man versus man with brother against brother.
The passage of time grew and multiplied these four horsemen
like funky fruit in Cain’s garden east of Eden.
Thereafter, whether you buy the Biblical or scientific,
original sinning Man’s evolution advanced his four antagonistic
Secondary Sins as much he did fire, steel and weaponry.
Even his thumbs evolved in opposition to his fingers.

HUMANITY: loose ends with a common thread!

Perhaps Man, the upright, big-brain atop the food chain,
never has evolved. Rather, his seed scattered, taking root
in the less green places across the fence from his neighbors’.
Our double helix rope frayed, never uniting us in
perpetual amity. We represent the apex of Nature’s orderly chaos,
only made in some God’s image. Or so the winners say.

HUMANITY: loose ends with a common thread!

On Day 11 of NaPoWriMo, I combined NaPoWriMo.net’s prompt for a poem in the Bop format with the prompt from my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines challenge. Hers is the refrain of this poem.

We Drink to the Old Fox

horse-back

The old man shivered as he sat upon his white horse. He sat as tall as he did in the old days, when he led armies into battle, even though the effort to do so was excruciating.

In some ways this feeling reminded him of the debacle from that winter so many years ago. The enemy commander a martinet who considered anathema the celebration of The Lord’s birth with song and libation. To him, it was just another day in the field for Prince and some other country. They were ready for the General’s force and cut it to ribbons.

The army he led this day was even less organized, untrained and most certainly less disciplined than that one. But that was a different fight, for a different overall goal, even if the reason these two armies faced one another across this western Pennsylvania field was one of the causes of the war that enabled them to be here in the first place. Taxes.

The old general stared across the field and could see His Excellency, once again at the head of his troops. He shook his head. That man’s courage and stupidity are exceeded only by his disregard for his own casualties and his amazing luck. He should have been killed or injured in ‘77, but for being thrown from his horse and landing upon a pile of his own dead, he thought.

The General estimated the opposing force as something more than 10,000 men, which was not a surprise, since His Excellency wanted to make a show of his power and station no matter where he sat, be it in the executive mansion or on the back of a black horse while he wore the Cornwallis’ surrendered saber.

“What are your orders, Gen’rul,” a Scots-Irish militia captain from hill country the other side of the Cumberland Gap said, his broad-brimmed hat in one hand, a dazzling curly maple piece of some Pennsylvania gunsmith’s art in the other.

The General, knowing his army of farmers and moonshiners would matter-of-factly drop the reins of their plow horses, pick up their long rifles and fight off seemingly overwhelming numbers of Shawnee at the first whoop, squinted with his diminished vision at the opposing army and said, “We wait. If His Excellency wishes another revolution, let him start it here.”

But the old man, his arthritis grating, his jaw throbbing and his once-buoyant ego now raised solely by its location upon this bluff and a 15-hand white gelding, began to think his hoped for rebellion against the unfair tax on individual distillers was doomed before it began. His show of force and resolve paled to the force and resolve of His Excellency, the President. These weren’t tax collectors and marshals they faced, but a standing army and organized militias.

He turned to his second-in-command, Nat Greene, who also suffered the wrath of Congress after December ‘76.

“I would say, General, that we have once again been overwhelmed by a superior force, not that our men don’t have principle and courage on their side. Does fighting Hamilton’s accursed tax merit the loss of life that we will no doubt suffer here?” the old soldier said.

“We’ve been on the losing end of too many of these scrapes, I fear, Sir. Would one more make that much of a difference in our already tarnished legacies?” Greene said, still the doleful devil’s advocate.

The blue-clad General weighed the odds and what capitulation would mean to his men, as well as himself as the proprietor the largest distillery in all the states. Better to give up some profit in whisky tax to that traitorous Hamilton then to lose all in a bloodbath here in western Pennsylvania.

Memory of his first defeat came back to him. His surrender to French and Indian forces out here in western Pennsylvania nagged at him his whole adult life. The retreats during the war for independence were one thing, but surrendering to a smug opposing leader was another.

The old General turned to Greene and his other lieutenants and said, “I think this has gone far enough. Bring me a white flag and tell the over-mountain men to return quickly to their farmsteads. I’ll take care of this. It’s men like me they really want their pound of flesh from. Besides, the revenue agents have to find our Kentuckians before they can collect from them. I’d say they stand a better chance of being killed by Shawnee, Chickamauga and Mingo than getting a patch of skin off our westerners.”

“You’re surrendering, General?” Greene asked, a look of disbelief and disappointment crossing his face.

“In a way. I’m surrendering so our neighbors won’t have to. I know His Excellency for what he is, courageous but foolhardy, hot-blooded and given to polishing his medals. I believe I shall bring along a piece of white cloth with which to help him,” the old General said.

Greene smiled and nodded.

“Yes, sir. I believe in a way you shall defeat him here without firing a shot.”

The General, Greene and some of his whisky-making colleagues from Virginia rode slowly out into the would-be field of combat under their white flag. Almost without hesitation, His Excellency spurred his black toward them, waving his lieutenants to follow him, as always, at the gallop.

Reining up, he smiled his smug smile as his men slowed to a trot behind him.

“Good day to you, Your Excellency,” the old General said, his jaw clenched, but in pain, not embarrassment.

“And to you, General. You look well, sir. I see the infirmities of rustic camp life have not diminished your old vigour,” His Excellency said. He stared intently into the old General’s eyes, judging what he deemed jealousy simmering in their rheumy condition.

“General, violence will not solve this dispute. It is the law of the nation, established by your very own erstwhile adjutant. You and your ‘army’ stand no chance against the assembled arms you see behind me. In fact, I see scores of your rebels already melting back into the countryside from which they came,” he said.

The old Genral turned in his saddle and hid a painful grin.

“I must agree with you, Your Excellency. Such a battle would leave this field littered with our dead. And while it would be a tragedy for independent men who turn the bounty of their crops into a public necessity, such bloodshed would leave your government bereft of individuals from whom to bleed your tax, something you and I fought a war to free our people from,” the General said.

“So, General, will you retire from the field and send your people back to their loving families and bountiful farmsteads?” His Excellency said.

“Aye, sir. You have bested me once again with a reputation built upon the bones of your enemies. You may send your tax collectors where you may to bleed us dry so the nation may drink to your honour,” the General said, and wheeled his white horse without another word.

“And to yours, good sir, and to your continued good health,” His Excellency replied.

As His Excellency returned to his cheering army, he couldn’t help but feel the swell of pride in his latest victory. This one not as a mere soldier anymore. No, this one, over the man Congress had once picked for leadership of colonial forces. This victory now as President of the United States.

With the huzzahs of his men ringing in his ears, President Benedict Arnold never heard the laughter of his opponent and his party at the pomposity and puffed up gullibility the Old Man had just leveraged to save his men from bloody defeat or capture.

Congress never appreciated these skills, he recalled; but that was politics, something he never wanted to play back in 1777 or now. The old fox was happy to return home to his farm and distillery on the Potomac and live out his remaining days as gentleman farmer George Washington.

Trying to catch up with my Story a Day challenge. I’m sure I win’s beat the calendar this time, but I’ll still try to get as many written as possible. Today’s story was supposed to be a third-person version——a changed point of view——from my first-person story in Week One, Another Victory for His Excellency. Had a little trouble figuring out how I’d accomplish it, but it came to me this afternoon. Two hours later, here’s your (a touch too long for flash fiction) first draft of how old General George, in his own way, outfoxed President Benedict.

Taps

US flags at graves at Veterans cemetery

US flags at graves at Veterans cemetery

My brother Eddie and I stared at the backs of the solemn folks in ill-fitting dark suits and veterans’  VFW garrison caps surrounding our father’s old drinking buddy’s casket. Eddie whispered, “I gotta take a leak.”

Typical Eddie.  Total mammal.  If he was outdoors, country road or golf fairway, he just couldn’t help stepping into the brush and watering the flora.

The reverend droned on about a better place and dust.  I couldn’t imagine anywhere better than this military cemetery, welcomed by its perfect white smiles of tombstones.

As gunshot salutes faded, Eddie reappeared, grinning like a fool.

“Where you been?” I said.

“Behind those bushes over there.”

“You were serious.”

“Heck, yeah, I was serious.  When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

“What’s so funny?”

“Ten years ago I had an argument with this guy at work. When they pulled us apart, I told him if I ever got the chance, I’d piss on his grave. Well, while I was over there, guess what I found?”

“You didn’t.”

“Uh-huh, I did.” He laughed through his crooked smile.

“And you think this is some kind of joke, right?”
“On him, yeah.”

“What if someone did something like that to your grave?”

“I wouldn’t know about it.”

“What if Ma decided to come visit your grave one Sunday and found some guy relieving himself on your head?”

“Never happen.”

“Could. How would you like it if visited Grandma’s grave and found some drunk kid off-loading Milwaukee’s Best on her headstone?”

“I’d kill him,” Eddie said.

“What if someone saw you?” I said.

“Look, I always look around to see if I can take a leak without being seen. I really didn’t piss on his grave. Just nearby. No harm, no foul, okay?” he said.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” we heard behind us. We turned to find a tall, black Marine in dress blues staring hard at us.

“Saw what you did, man,” he said to Eddie. “That’s just wrong and you gotta come correct. Or I’m gonna correct you.”

“I don’t know what you’re taking about,” Eddie said, choking on a dry gulp.

“It’s bad enough you dishonor the brave man who’s being buried here today, but then you go and dishonor another one.”

“My brother is very sorry for his abhorrent behavior.  Aren’t you?”

“Look, corporal, I’ve got a bladder problem and sometimes I just have to go…fast.  This was one of those times,” Eddie said.

“I heard you laugh and say you thought what you did was funny.  You know what I think is funny? When a tough guy gets called out and turns out he’s nothing but a bunch of air.  You a tough guy? Or something else?”

Eddie reached for the car door.

His hand was consumed by a large brown hand that seemed the size of a baseball mitt, only not as soft.

“Ow, leggo,” Eddie said, “that hurts.”

“You know what really hurts? That guys like you can be assholes in this country because of guys like me and the men you disrespected today.”

Eddie tugged, but the Marine just squeezed harder.

“Oh, God,” Eddie sobbed, dropping to his knees.

The sound of breaking china came from where their hands met in what seemed a sign of peace. Tears appeared in Eddie’s eyes.

“That’s the kind of behavior I expect in honoring the dead,” the Marine said. “I think you’ve come to accept disciplined, honorable behavior. Please stop by and honor these brave folks again, sir. Semper Fi.”

He released Edie’s hand, about-faced, and melted into the bushes where this all began.

Eddie tells everyone he broke his hand catching it in the car door. The tool.

A place-keeper story today for my ruptured duck of a Story a Day quest for September. Couldn’t get to the prompted one, but had this in the old sack. Poor story from a stumbling, sleep-starved September writer.

No Tears to Cry

 

images

Clusters of black smoke chrysanthemums with red centers bloomed all around them as they roared an unblinking path on the deck toward the Japanese cruiser. They launched their fish and pulled up and away, only to be jumped by a Zero fighter, torn up by its guns and sent into the sea with a wrenching splash.

Far from any American ships, ignored by the Japanese, in the emptiness of the blue Pacific, no one watched the three men in sand-colored khaki crawl from their sinking torpedo bomber into the yellow raft that would be their savior and prison for who knew how many days.

As the sun set in a sizzling glow——the fourth such setting since his Avenger torpedo plane went down——Capt. Fred O’Hara rasped to his two crewman, “Look, we all know there’s no hope for me, so stop with giving me your water.”

O’Hara’s abdomen was cinched into a standard field dressing, which had long since become saturated with blood, the result of a 7.7mm machine gun bullet plowing a furrow into him on its way into and out of his Avenger.

It was his leg, though, that O’Hara knew was not only his death sentence, but probably his crew’s, as well. When the aircraft hit the water, its aluminum skeleton and skin twisted inward on his cockpit and sliced open his leg from hip to knee. Now it was held together with three Navy-issue web belts that served as tourniquets and binding. Blood and sea water sloshed inside the raft.

“No way, Skipper, we’ve got two more days ration of water left for the three of us, and I’m sure the PBYs are out looking for a squadron commander whose plane wasn’t blown outta the sky but was last seen slapping into the ocean,” Ensign Bobby Shaw said. The bombardier/navigator tucked a blanket around O’Hara in the growing darkness.

Despite his pep talks, the nights full of darkness and O’Hara’s painful moaning were beginning to get to Shaw and gunner’s mate Aldo Sciorra. These were the times when they felt most alone, bobbing on the Pacific under the sliver of moon, when sharks would bump the underside of their rubber raft.

Sciorra said, “You saved our asses too many times, Skipper, for us to not take care of yours. The ensign and me are seeing you through, until…well, until whenever.”

“Damn straight, Aldo. Now skitter over here and let’s see if we can get a little more shade on the Skipper,” Shaw said. “I’ll scan the east and you the south. I figure that’s where the carrier felt might be located now. If anything shows, sing out. I’ll pop the Very pistol and then we pray they see our flare.”

“If we have any prayers left in us,” Sciorra said under his breath.

“What, Sciorra?”

“Nothing, sir. Just…you know…sighing or something.”

On the afternoon of the fifth day, Sciorra caught the flash of sunlight on the large domed fuselage port of a Consolidated PBY Catalina seaplane. He fumbled in the wooden box for the flare gun and in his weakness and hurry dropped the box over the side.

“What the fu…,” Shaw said as he saw Sciorra reach into the water and come up with the flare pistol and one flare cartridge.

“God damn you, Sciorra. Now what the hell we gonna do? We’ve got that one flare and no idea if the damn thing’ll even fire now that it’s been in the drink,” Shaw said. Even with the ensign’s burnt and peeling skin, Sciorra could tell Shaw’s face was flushed with anger.

“Easy, Bobby, easy,” Capt. O’Hara whispered. “We don’t know what the flare’ll do, but you still have it, so you still got a chance. But you’ve got to drink more. Just let me go. That’s an order, Mister.”

Shaw looked at Sciorra, but this time not in anger. It wasn’t that he didn’t want more water, but his devotion to O’Hara and devotion to duty would have to determine a winner in their fight before he would write off O’Hara like a crash-landed Avenger.

He gave O’Hara the last of the morphine——which he’d rationed like the water——from their medical kit. Then he sat with his back against the bouncy wall of the raft and stared at his Skipper.

But four days of keeping the Skipper and themselves alive left Shaw and Sciorra past exhaustion. That night, they closed their eyes and gave in to whatever inevitability might come in what few days they had left.

It was Sciorra who first heard the Catalina flying above them the next morning.

“Mister Shaw, Mister Shaw, listen,” he pleaded as he shook Bobby Shaw awake.

Adrenaline and fatigue nearly blinding him to everything but the flare gun, Shaw shoved the flare into the pistol, made the Sign of the Cross, whispered, “Please, God,” pointed it straight up in the air and pulled the trigger.

With a loud pop, a line of white smoke arced above them and then gave another faint pop, blooming into a flame red flare that hung in the sky upon a small parachute.

The men saw the PBY lower its right wing and bank toward them. Sciorra hugged Shaw and cried, “They see us, Mister Shaw. They see us. Skipper, look. They’re com…”

But all they saw was the blood-stained blanket in the spot where Fred O’Hara let himself over the side overnight. He’d abandoned ship, leaving his men to fend for themselves, an anathema to the ethos passed down from his Admiral father, his Annapolis education and his Pensacola flight training.

“Captain O’Hara took the decision out of my hands,” Shaw later told a crewman on the PBY. “He tore up every code, abandoning his men to give us another day to live. And now here we are.” Shaw buried his face in a blanket and sobbed, but he had no tears to cry.

On Day 10 of my September Story a Day Challenge, I’m supposed to write a piece in what Julie Duffy calls a Hansel and Gretel story structure. That’s where the life changing moment that’s the key to operable fiction occurs right at the beginning and then come the tries and failures where every time the characters take two steps forward they take three steps back. I hope I got this structure right. I hope even more I’ve made a viable story.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité

Because he could, Lieutenant Mal Forbes flipped over his Nieuport 28 fighter airplane and flew upside down. He bent back his head, as to look up, but now up was down. He could feel the strain of his seat belt upon his waist, the blood rushing to his head. He peered over the cockpit coaming at the cloud-plumed blue sky now below his lower wing.

This ability to change point of view with a flick of his wrist and a kick of the rudder made these solo hours in the air, while potentially deadly, his respite from the foes he faced back at his squadron aerodrome.

After righting his nimble, though fragile, French-built aircraft, Forbes took one more swing along the front, hunting German artillery spotting planes. His fuel on reserve, he whispered a “Damn it” that blew away in the slipstream almost before he finished saying it, and headed southwest for the squadron landing field.

Forbes wished he could just remain up there, flying, never having to go back and face those Ivy League pretty boys and their snide jibes about the “half-breed” cowboy pilot. He’d passed five-victory Ace status in the American Air Service two weeks ago, more than anyone else in the squadron, and still they treated him like a stable boy.

Maybe it was his dark skin he’d picked up from his mother’s side of the family. She was half-Ute and he’d grown up on a ranch with his Ute grandmother.

“Hey, Forbes, is it true what they say about Indian women, real wildcats in the l’amour department?” Lt. Edmund Garry said one afternoon in the officers mess. This was the third time he’d made such a statement and Forbes instinctively reached for the Colt on his hip. Instead, he threw a left hook that sent Garry to the hospital and him to the Squadron CO. Other pilots confirmed that Forbes was to blame for the altercation. The incident gave him three days confined to quarters and a reputation as not only an Indian, but also a hothead.

Where more than half of his squadron mates boasted fathers and grandfathers who’d served as state governors, United States Senators, or congressmen at the least, he thought of countering with the fact that his Grandpa Forbes was once the mayor of Winfield, Colorado. He never mentioned that Grandpa was the only mayor of Winfield and that the silver mining boomtown went bust in three years.

They don’t even deserve a lie, he told himself.

After a smooth landing, Forbes taxied the Nieuport to its assigned hanger tent and hopped out of the cockpit to greet his mechanic, Dino Cenci, already waiting with a pail to drain the oil from the Gnome engine and prepare it for his pilot’s next sortie.

“Might be a ring going on one of the pistons, Dino,” Forbes said. “She’d give a pop and sag a little whenever I pulled up quickly to gain a little altitude. Check it out for me, will ya, please?”

“Yessir, Lieutenant. By dawn, she’ll be purring like our cat on mia dolce nonna’s lap,” Cenci said, as the rest of Forbes’ ground crew inspected their respective parts of the Nieuport.

“CO says he wants to see you, Chief,” Forbes’ flight commander, Capt. Benton Stearns, an upstate New York farmer’s son and Cornell graduate, called over from a nearby card table where he was playing penny ante poker with his crew. “I raise two cents,” he said.

“Thanks, Cap. Any idea what the Old Man wants?”

Stearns had to laugh. Their squadron commander was all of twenty-eight years old.

“Nope, just said to send you over to his tent when you got back. Or as he said, ‘If that pain in the ass gets back.’ For what it’s worth, I find you sterling company and a damned calming presence on my right wing. I call,” Stearns said.

“Thanks, Cap,” Forbes said.

When Forbes entered Major Phillip Bush’s office tent, he noticed Bush’s expression change from its normal staid to thinly veiled contempt.

“You asked to see me, sir?” Forbes said with a click to attention.

“Yes, Forbes. I see you made it back. Still flyable? No perforations and broken ribs or such?” Bush said. He meant the airplane. As far as he was concerned, Forbeses were more easily replaced than aircraft.

“Just a little engine trouble, sir. My mechanic will have it in good shape by morning.”

“Good. Now let’s talk about you.”

“Me, sir?” Forbes said.

“I won’t frame this in any coddling way, Forbes. The pilots tell me you’ve become a problem, a distraction, a victory-hogging vulture. In other words, they want me to transfer you to another squadron.”

“Would that request come specifically from Lt.Garry, Sir?” Forbes asked.

“It doesn’t matter, but, yes, he was one of the men who pointed out your consistent lack of team play and flight integrity.”

“Flight…integrity…”

“Yes. It’s said you will break formation to hunt on your own, which I will not allow while a regular squadron sortie is being conducted.”

“Have you discussed this with my flight leader, sir?”

“No. Captain Stearns needn’t be consulted on such a command decision. Therefore…”

“Who’s command would that be…Sir?

“I beg your pardon, Lieutenant? You may have been able to play fast and loose with military decorum in your French squadrons, but not in mine. In the hopefully very short time you will be under my command, you will recognize my authority and that of all your superiors,” Bush said. His patrician pallor shifted to a farmer’s red neck.

“Yessir. And where is it you’ll be transferring me? Sir!”

“There’s an opening at the 103rd. Maybe you’ll fit in with Soubiran, Larner, your fellow Lafayette Corps types under Thaw’s command. I figure anyone who’d buy a live lion as a squadron pet, plus served with Bert Hall without killing him, should handle you and your…proclivities…quite… Well, he has a chance to make you a gentleman,” Bush said.

“When do you wish me to leave, Sir?” Forbes asked.

“After your dawn patrol with your new flight commander, Captain Garry,” Bush said with a smirk. “That’s all.”

Forbes stalked to his tent and began packing his effects into the cases he bought on holiday in Paris after his fifth victory in ’17. The one that made him an ace in his French squadron, Spa. 75.

Stearns burst into the tent and roared, “What in the hell is going on, Chief? I just heard that piss ant Garry whined to the Old Man and, et voila, you’re sacked? Going over to the 103rd?”

“Yep, but at least I’ll be with guys who know what they’re doing, and flying SPADs, to boot. They may have the glide angle of a brick, but at least they don’t fall apart in the middle of a scrape.”

“You’re okay with this, eh?”

“Sure. And you can’t help but love the irony of moving to a squadron whose insignia is an Indian head, can you?” Forbes said.

“These punks wouldn’t be that smart, would they?”

“Garry would.”

“And I heard you’re going up with his flight in the morning,” Sterns said.

“Yeah, a goodbye ‘Fuck You’ from Garry, Bush and their frat brothers,” Forbes said

“Well, bon chance, Chief. I’ve learned a lot from you. And my right wing will feel mighty bare-ass and at-risk starting tomorrow.”

Bon chance, Cap. See you at Maxim’s when this is over.”

In the pre-dawn chill, Forbes met Garry and two other pilots at the flight line.

“Well, Forbes, nice of you to join us. Let’s see you stay with us for the duration of this patrol,” Garry said.

“You know, Garry, I wouldn’t miss this sortie for the world, just to see you oblivious to all the Boche observers with your head up your ass instead of on a swivel. You only join the fray when someone else spots the Boche and then fire off a few bursts and claim their kills. My guess is you’ll be dead soon enough, so this morning I just wanted to say goodbye,” Forbes said and headed toward his Nieuport and ground crew.

“We’ll be much the better for your departure, you half-breed mutt,” Garry yelled at Forbes’s back.

“The crew’s awful sorry to see you go, Sir. We liked to think you were one of us,” Dino Cenci said as he extended his oil-stained hand to Forbes.

As he shook each man’s hand, Forbes said, “I like to think that, too, Dino. Every time I step into that cockpit, we’re all in it together, right?”

“Yessir, Lieutenant.”

“Now let’s twist this pussy’s tail and see if she purrs like your nonna’s cat.”

After a smooth start and climb to the flight’s prescribed altitude, the patrol began. Each man was to hold his aircraft in a specific position for the other’s protection and to multiply the chances of finding enemy aircraft to engage.

Forbes was first to see the seemingly alone German LVG reconnaissance plane five thousand feet below. He wagged his wings to get Garry’s attention, but shook his head “No” and pointed up to the flight of eight Fokker D-VIIs breaking through the clouds.

An obvious trap, but Garry pointed down and the other Nieuports dutifully followed his attack on the LVG.

Forbes lagged behind, knowing that the flight would be under the guns of the Fokkers in moments. He broke off and swung around the diving Fokkers, picking out one with some bird device painted on its side. He may have hated Garry and the Harvard man’s gang of snobs, but he would protect them whether they knew what was about to happen or not.

He touched off his dual machine guns and hosed tracers up the spine of the Fokker to its cockpit, watching its pilot slump and then saw the plane burst into flames.

That’s one, he thought. Look the hell behind you, Garry!

The LVG dove away from the American pursuit planes just as the German fighters opened fire. Chapman, another Harvard man, never knew what hit him.

Forbes flipped his plane and turned on another Fokker as they began leveling off to chop up the over-matched Nieuports. The American planes had a slight advantage of maneuverability in the right hands, but Forbes’s were the only right ones in this fight.

He let go a burst just as the Fokker flashed by and saw its left aileron come loose and float away like a leaf. The Fokker dove in hopes of surviving a landing on the American side of the lines.

Two.

Above him, Forbes saw Garry tailing one of his flight members, who was jinking and rolling madly to elude another Fokker. Garry’s tracers cut through the German’s fuselage, but to no effect. Forbes pulled a twisting climb and caught the Fokker with a burst from beneath.

Three, Forbes thought. Now where the hell are the rest?

Red tracers whizzed past his head, as bullets from a pair of German Spandau machine guns stitched holes through his left wings. Tracers crossed the German’s path and Forbes saw Gerry’s aircraft, flight leader pennants straight out in the slipstream from its struts, flash across their path. With that distraction, he fired into the Fokker’s engine, which began to smoke.

Four.

But Garry didn’t see the Fokker behind him who buried a burst into his Nieuport’s slender, tapered fuselage. He immediately dove in attempt to escape, but the Fokker had the weight and power advantage.

Shit, I should just let the bastard get it and head back to the base, Forbes thought.

But his training, from his Ute Grandmother, his ranching parents and his French comrades wouldn’t let him. He gave chase and potted the Fokker with a burst and then another, causing him to pull away from Garry.

Five. Now get the hell out of my life, Garry, you pompous prick. Where the…

The burst of bullets arced from one of the remaining Fokkers Forbes had lost contact with while coming to Garry’s aid. Forbes felt the burn through his chest and in the briefest of moments saw all the good in his life, then the killing and the bad, then…nothing.

Garry managed to bring his damaged Nieuport down to a French aerodrome. When he returned to his own, he claimed three kills, which were approved and moved him past Forbes on the squadron’s victory ranking.

The two Fokkers who survived Mal Forbes last fight returned to their Jasta. There, a party of fellow Prussian officers clustered around one of the planes, praising its pilot for wiping out the American flight. Forward observers would relay that information to the Jastas.

Down the flight line, only the ground crew of the other pilot, the one that killed the American ace, welcomed their Herr home. They inspected the stripe of bullet holes that pierced the six-pointed star on his fuselage’s side.

From amid the cluster of Prussian officers walking past the lone pilot came a laugh from the other surviving pilot.

“Even the Jew got his Amerikaner today,” he said, just as they always described Leutnant Oskar Schneider, even after today’s fight brought him to ten-victory Kanon status and a sure Pour le Mérite medal of a hero of the German Empire. Even if he was nothing but “the Jew” to his Jasta mates.

Schneider wondered what it would be like to be on the other side, an American, where your comrades didn’t care about your race or religion, just your character and courage.

“Thus it will always be, boys,” he said to his crew, but they ignored him and had already begun preparing the aircraft for its next flight.

Here’s the too-long first draft of Story #2 for my September Story-A-Day Challenge. It’s rough, as any first draft should be, but I think it has “good bones.” I was supposed to write a story using the following words: Blame, State, Frame, Holiday, Relay, Waist, Pail, Gain, Raise, Mayor, Airplane, Remain. 

Pretty certain I did. You check. I’m done for the night.

Mercy in Schuyler’s Abattoir

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In the hospital tent, Dr. Savage stood by the table that belonged to General Schuyler, but had now become his surgical table where more limbs were removed from wounded soldiers than bullets that caused them.

When the stretcher bearing the British officer arrived, Savage’s orders were to save the man at any cost. Simultaneously, bearers lugged the canvas sling fashioned to carry to the makeshift surgery young Thomas Borden from the field in front of Breymann’s Redoubt. The curiosity of the medical staff was set off not by the bullet hole in the Tryon County volunteer’s left shoulder. His shirt had been ripped to get a better view of the wound and that provided a surprising view of Private Borden’s breast, a breast belonging most definitely to a female.

Savage looked over the British Major, who someone said was a West Country noble called John Acland. He’d been shot through the hips and Savage’s inspection with his fingers and metal probe didn’t show any serious damage to bone or his lower gut. Savage packed the Major’s wounds with lint, knowing that was about all he could do for the man. All the while, Acland observed the doctor’s ministrations with quiet moans and wing looks at Savage. The doctor nodded to his assistants and then moved to Borden.

“Orders are orders, gentlemen, but this woman needs as much if not more care as our Redcoat officer here. Bartlett, give the Major a large dose of that rum and a dram of laudanum to keep the pain at bay and then join me over here with this…” Savage didn’t know what to call young Borden.

Pulling back the young woman’s linsey-woolsy hunting shirt, Savage saw the bullet wound she’d suffered. It was of a similar caliber as the large and heavy round fired from the British army’s Brown Bess musket.

“How did this girl get wounded?” Savage asked.

“I heard Colonel Van Wie shot her so she wouldn’t kill the wounded grenadier officer there, sir,” Savage’s aide said. .

“Well someone sure as hell did,” Savage said. “Now I’ve got to probe inside her for that ball. Leadbetter, give her shot of that corn whisky and Then you and Larabee hold her still,” Savage said to his cadre of aides. “Quite a waste. She’s almost a pretty thing,” he said. “And I know I’ve seen her before.”

From behind him, Savage heard Acland say, “Aye.”

After removing Bodden’s shirt, some of the aides, hardened by the surgery’s abattoir atmosphere, blushed with some semblance of Christian decorum.

“More light over here, Bartlett,” Dr. Savage said. He wiped some of the blood from Acland’s procedure off a metal probe and held it ready in his left hand as he pushed his red-stained index finger into the .69 caliber hole left by Van Wie’s pistol. The girl’s scream was no more nor less than that of any other soldier’s. The mirrored lantern revealed a steady pulsing of blood from her left shoulder.

Savage said, “You might be one lucky young Borden, or Miss Bodden, or whatever your real name is. Ball nicked your bone but didn’t shatter it. Went right on through without touching any major vessels. Nevertheless…”

“Is…is he dead? Did I kill him?” The girl, dressed as a Mohawk Valley farmer on an October hunt might, thrashed a bit to see if Acland was next to her, or just his body. She saw him staring at her.

“No, he’s alive, though it’s a grievous wound. Nevertheless, he’s watching you now,” Savage said. Then he turned to his assistant and said, “Tourniquet, Bartlett.”

“No,” came booming from the pallet where Major Acland lay. “You’ll not take the girl’s arm. Clean and bind her wound, give her rum and laudanum, but do not take her arm.”

“Delirium, sir?” Bartlett asked Savage. “Or the ravings from the opium and drink?” He held a leather strap which was slick with blood.

“No, I don’t think so. Sir, you’re neither a doctor or surgeon. You just lie back and let me do what must be done,” Savage said.

“You’re wrong there, sir,” Acland said through clenched teeth. “I studied with Hunter in London. I believe you’d be doing more harm than good from so drastic a procedure. Please do as I ask, I’m imploring you. The girl has as much or greater chance of dying from the amputation as the bullet wound itself. You have nothing to lose, sir,” Acland said.

“Hunter, eh?” Savage said. “I’ve read some of his studies. But we don’t have time here to debate theorem, sir. Only to cut, saw and burn. And my time for her seems to have been superseded by my need to tend to the next twelve men. I’ll leave her life to God and your conscience, then, sir. Take her off and do as the learned Major Acland said, Bartlett.”

With that, Savage turned and shouted, “Larabee, what by Jehovah are you standing there for? Bring on the next. Oh, with your august permission, Doctor Acland.”

But Acland couldn’t hear the rebel surgeon’s jeering retort. He’d finally succumbed to the shock of his wounds and the opium in his system. Leadbetter rolled him back onto his pallet and, with Bartlett, lifted another wounded soldier upon the table, where Savage removed the man’s leg just above the knee in but two minutes.

“Another, Leadbetter,” he said, rinsing blood from his hands in a basin of pink water. Then, to no one, he added, “War. Women. Madness.”

In response to another month-long Story a Day Challenge, I was supposed to write a story in 30 minutes. In it, I’m supposed to take a character and make him do the opposite of what you or he would ever think of doing. I decided to try writing a chapter of a novel that’s been nagging me for four years. It’s working title is “Stillwater,” and it’s the story of a girl from Somerset, England who comes to New York in the 1770s to escape the nobleman who she believe may instigated her father’s death and attacked her sister. But sometimes the obvious isn’t as it seems. This is by no means a finished piece. It’s a first draft speed write. But it has “good bones.